Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #2: Sakonis, Wembley, Middlesex

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

My last review was Wong Kei in London's bustling Chinatown, and today's entry is similar, in a sort of authentic-ethnic-high-turnover-legendary-landmark-dining-institution kind of way, but not remotely alike in its location, culinary influence or atmosphere. Part of a two restaurant chain (the sister restaurant is located in Harrow, a few miles away), Sakonis is an Indian vegetarian diner set in a busy road close to Wembley triangle, home of the national sports stadium, and a hive of activity for our north London Asian community. I have been eating here for years and feel that now is the time to blab to the world what a uniquely special and delicious experience it is.

127-129 Ealing Road
Tel: 020 8903 1058

The Restaurant:

Located on the busy Ealing Road, lined with jewellers, exotic fruit and veg emporia and sari shops, lies this alfresco patio-fronted diner, established many many years ago to cater for the ever-expanding local Asian community. The parking is a nightmare (especially on bank holidays, the day we decided to go), but there is little other alternative to driving to Sakonis, unless you fancy taking the bus, which I don't.

Once parked; as you walk through the gazebo-ed terrace to the front door, past the front takeaway counter filled with brightly covered sweets and savouries, and through to the dining area, you notice an overwhelming abundance of... white formica. Everything seems to be covered in it, from the floor to the walls to the tables to the chairs and even the crockery. I may be wrong - and in fact the walls and floor may be ceramic tiled instead - but it's the impression or feeling of formica which stays in the memory long after you have left the restaurant, and is in fact probably the reason why I have referred to this place as a diner, rather than a restaurant, so far in this review.

As you are led to your (probably formica-topped) table, you are presented with a large jug of water and plastic cups. Trust me, you will need them later to help put out the chilli fire in your mouth. After a quick glance at the menu, together with the inevitable brief ponder as to whether you might order a la carte this time, instead of greedily plumping for the buffet (pictured),

you smile sweetly at the waiter and tell him that actually you will be plumping for the buffet. Why not? Most of what is offered on the regular menu is to be found under the row of stainless steel sun-lamped and chiller cabinets anyway. Talking of greediness: Just in case your eyes outsize your stomach, a 'polite notice' on laminated card on each table reminds you (politely) not to take more of the buffet than you can eat, and that (politely) any wasted food will be (politely) charged extra for. And (politely) no sharing the buffet with a la carte orderers. Ok ok.

The Menu:

Is there any point discussing anything except for the buffet? Well yes, actually. In fact, looking around the place, I would say that the split between buffet and non-buffet clientele is about 50/50, so noticing around me that most of the knowledgeable-looking patrons act like they eat here every week of their lives, obviously there is a lot to be said for asking for a menu.

The menu is split into five sections: 'Eats', 'Bites' 'Indian-style Chinese cuisine', 'Sweets' and 'Drinks':


As far as 'Eats' is concerned, the crispy potato bhajias are the shining star. These are slices of potato coated in a crispy herby batter, which although not sounding too exotic or adventurous, are utterly sublime. I have never eaten a potato dish, in any culinary style, that I have enjoyed as much as this. Almost as good is the mixed chat, which is a dish of savoury spicy treats smothered in a refreshing yoghurt-based sauce.

A mention must of course go to the masala dosa. A south Indian speciality, comprising a large wafery pancake, filled with a most rich and delicious potato curry. Although not on the menu, the last time we had the buffet, one of the dishes offered was the most incredible Masala Chips (click the link for my own recipe). Message to the Sakonis management: Put them on the regular menu NOW!


'Bites' offers the usual small-dish fare of samosas and kachori etc, which range from a very reasonable £2 to £5.

'Chinese Cuisine':

I have long stopped asking myself why an Indian restaurant is offering Chinese food, and just eat it instead - I suggest you do the same. Try the paneer chilli and the Shanghai potatoes, but don't expect anything in this part of the menu to taste particularly Chinese-y. It's basically Indian food with noodles.

'Drinks' and 'Sweets':

Drinks and sweets are the usual gulab jamun, rasmalai (balls of very sweet whey dough, fried or poached and served either in a sugar syrup or a condensed milk sauce) and ice creams. As with the masala chips, the buffet offered jelabi (fried webs of dough, with a sugar syrup glaze) which was not on the regular menu. I have been assured by Mrs Ribeye that the mango lassi is 'the best ever' High praise indeed. (I wouldn't know. I think drinking yoghurt with a meal is a repulsive notion.)

The Bill:

The buffet is £8.99 for lunch, or £11.99 in the evening. The thing is, you would be hard pressed to spend an awful lot more if you order a la carte, but with the buffet you get about 30 dishes to go at, rather than being restricted to the 3-4 that you would otherwise contend with. On the a la carte menu, there is not a single dish over £7, and most of them are nearer £5. Excellent value.

The Experience:

In fairness, you don't go to Sakonis for the atmosphere or the decor. It is ALL about the food. Not only is Sakonis a brilliant restaurant, it is by far the best vegetarian restaurant of any type of cuisine that I have ever eaten in. Also, I would rather eat lunch at Sakonis than dinner - the atmosphere and decor are not conducive to a lingered-over evening meal.

Like all of my favourite restaurants, Sakonis offers excellent value for money, is completely unique in terms of the food offered, and makes any other 'equivalent' (an oxymoron in the strictest sense of the word, if you consider Sakonis as unique, of course) restaurant seem as if they are not quite trying hard enough. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi, looking forward to getting your ideas, suggestions and recipes here at Potless Towers. Leave a comment and we'll get straight back to you.